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When you start a new business, you’re going to want to find a good mentor. Mentors are as close to a business success hack that exists: they can provide validation, encouragement, networking opportunities, perspective, industry-specific strategies, accountability and more. It’s no surprise then that studies connect mentorship to higher outcomes of success and more revenue for startups and small businesses.
Mentoring is an informal relationship between an established leader and someone who wants to learn from them. But creating that relationship does require taking some actionable steps, especially if you are new to entrepreneurship and perhaps don’t have the connections that you did in your prior work.
If you want to find a good mentor but don’t know where to start, here are seven ways to do so:
Do your research on leaders in your field
When you first start up your business, identify leaders (business owners, thought leaders, speakers, peers, etc.) who have achieved what you want to achieve. This list should include many candidates whom you admire for different reasons.
A good mentor, however, isn’t just successful. Though it may sound obvious, a good mentor is someone you like. While a mentor should challenge you and your assumptions, they should also be someone who you enjoy spending time with.
Narrow down your list of possibilities by researching each person’s history and output. Read their blog posts, listen to their talks, know their story. If and when the time comes to ask them to mentor you, you should know why they’re a good fit for you—beyond their own success.
Related: 4 Traits of Great Business Mentors
Come prepared with expectations
If you do find a good potential mentor, the best way to derail a possible mentor/mentee relationship is to show up completely unprepared to learn.
Know the answers to questions like:
- How much time do you need from your mentor every week or month?
- What do you want out of this relationship and what are some methods for achieving those outcomes?
- Why do you even want a mentor?
If you can’t answer questions like these, your mentor isn’t going to be of much help to you.
Bring value to the equation
Another way to lose out on a valuable mentorship is to approach the relationship as a one-way street. A good mentor is likely busy with their own business pursuits, other mentees, and their own life—they’ll want a reason for being your mentor (besides helping you out).
Your mentor will clearly know more about the business and industry that you’re in. You can still come to the table ready to share your own knowledge, experience and information; more importantly, you can be a positive, pleasant, energetic presence in their lives, as well. In short: Be the type of person someone wants to mentor.
Don’t ask them—just learn from them
There is a competing school of thought regarding mentorship that says you shouldn’t ask someone to be your mentor at all, particularly if they’re a stranger. It’s true: You don’t necessarily have to have a formal mentoring relationship with a “mentor.” You can follow them on social media, keep up with their writings, take their courses and study their decisions without encroaching on them and their time further.
Down the road, if you engage with this mentor on social media or meet them through connections, you may find that a mentorship relationship emerges organically. But you don’t need their express permission to learn from them on your own.
Request one through SCORE or another SBA-affiliated group
There are membership groups expressly dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs to established business leaders and experts.
The best-known of these groups is SCORE, which touts itself as the “largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with more than 10,000 volunteers in 300 chapters.” Use SCORE to find a mentor by location as well as industry, and to access live webinars and courses on demand, all for free.
There are other groups affiliated with the Small Business Administration that can help advise you on common pitfalls and useful strategies, including country-wide Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Centers. All of these groups can help you with everything from securing business licenses to obtaining a small business loan.
Use LinkedIn groups
As professional networking goes, LinkedIn is the social media network of choice for finding members in the same industry or with similar interests. Join groups that align with your goals and interests and identify active members who post content and communicate in ways that resonate with you. These group members are potential mentors. Just be aware that for non-Premium users of LinkedIn, you are limited to sending a certain number of direct messages each month.
Look outside of your field
As you start your business and begin to seek insights that can help you navigate challenges specific to your niche, remember: Good mentors aren’t limited to those in your same industry. Good business practices, principles and perspectives are universal.
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson once famously said that he has a number of different mentors for each area and project he works on. You can do the same: Look for mentors who are experts on certain aspects of running your business you may want help with, from growth strategy to company culture to public speaking.
Don’t limit yourself to an exact fit within your field—you’ll find more options and gain access to more perspectives this way.
As an entrepreneur, a mentor can help you grow and succeed, but they aren’t a magic cure-all. In order to get the most of out of your mentor relationships, you’ll need to put in plenty of your own effort and find mentors who make sense for you, personally.
Whether you are mentored by an old friend or an emerging voice on social media, do your part to find and engage them. The more you put into finding these mentors, the richer and more productive those relationships will be.